French stance dashes Ireland’s replay hopes

IRISH hopes of a re-staging of the controversial second leg of their World Cup play-off game against France were dashed last night when it became clear that the French Football Federation (FFF) see no basis for such a game to take place.

While pressure for a replay continued to mount in Ireland, sources in Paris rubbished the idea, pointing to a statement on their official website from Federation President Jean Pierre Escalettes in which he congratulated Les Bleus on qualifying for South Africa – and conspicuously made no mention whatsoever about the controversy surrounding Thierry Henry’s hand in the decisive goal from William Gallas.

However, Escalettes did make a point of mentioning Nicolas Anelka’s penalty claim in what observers interpreted as a deliberate reflection of the apparently widely-held view in France that contentious incidents balanced each other out over the course of the two legs of the play-off. While there were reports from Zurich last night that FIFA were adopting a “wait and see” policy with regard to the FAI’s appeal to restage the game, it’s understood that football’s world governing body would not even consider such a possibility without a specific request from the FFF. And all the evidence now suggests that this will simply not be forthcoming.

As Giovanni Trapattoni himself acknowledged last night, time is another critical factor which militates against a replay, with the World Cup finals draw set to take place in Capetown on December 4.

The FAI has submitted a formal complaint to FIFA after France’s controversial play-off victory in Paris last night, and that is currently under consideration.

FAI chief executive John Delaney has called on the governing body to uphold “the integrity of the game”.

However, a FIFA source claimed: “There is no way the game can be replayed.

“To do so would cause absolute chaos for football. If it was replayed, then every match in the future would also be subject to these calls for a replay. FIFA’s rules are absolutely clear. Law five states that a referee’s decision on points of fact are final.”

Delaney said: “We have got to do what we have to do. We owe it to the players, who were magnificent.

“It is up to the people who govern the game now. Every time I go to a FIFA congress, I hear about fair play and integrity.

“This was not a league game. This was a defining game with the whole world watching and if FIFA believe in fair play and integrity, this is their opportunity to step forward.

“From the French FA point of view, they need to look at themselves in this situation.

“Henry is their captain and a wonderful footballer, but does he want to be like Diego Maradona and his legacy to be this handball, this goal that got them to the World Cup in an unjust manner?”

Delaney added: “If we had qualified in this manner, I wouldn’t be happy. I really believe the integrity of the game has been questioned last night.”

FIFA have ordered a game to be replayed before – Uzbekistan’s 2006 World Cup qualifier against Bahrain – but only because the referee had made a “technical error” after a penalty had been awarded.

But the whole affair has left a sour taste as Irish disappointment at FIFA’s late decision to seed the play-offs turned to disgust over Henry’s contribution to their downfall.

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